Charadrius melodus - Piping Plover
Habitat The Piping Plover can be found along sandy beaches or alkali flats where they feed upon aquatic insects and other macroinvertebrates. Like most shorebirds they nest upon the ground and try to protect their progeny by attacking any transgressors. The adults will peck/bite any intruders and can cause some pain, making many animals think twice before going near a nest site.
Range They have a relatively widespread range throughout North America. Populations are found all along the eastern coast of the United States ranging from Texas to Maine. There are also densities in the mid-west, ranging from Nebraska northward into Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada. -The mid-west populations and the northern populations along the coast (North Carolina and northward)are summer populations. -The southern range are typically comprised of wintering birds.
Description This small pale bird is easily overlooked. Its only 7 inches long and weighs on average a mere 2 ounces. Similar to other plover species, the Piping Plover has a black ring (which is usually incomplete) around its neck. It's distinguishing characteristics are the black patch on its forehead and the pale-tan coloration on its back and wings. Common to all shorebirds, the Piping Plover has relatively long legs which are yellowish-orange. They can be seen rapidly running along the beach or flat and then coming to a complete halt to pick up food before running again.
Ecological Notes In some areas the Piping Plover is considered to be endangered locally. However, on a large-scale it is considered Near Threatened by the IUCN. Due to its conservation status, the nesting sites of many Piping Plovers are closely watched and beaches are closed in areas where there are nests.
Personal Information Two Piping Plovers were seen on our Marine Biology Class Trip to the Outer Banks. They were found on a sandy beach near the Oregon Inlet. A local, Brad Pickens, pointed them out for he knew that they commonly are found in that area. I additionally saw one at Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area in Ohio at a mudflat and thus the origin of the picture above. This is an accidental species to Ohio and thus was not a normal find.
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Additional Information To the untrained eye the Piping Plover can easily be confused for another plover species. Most plovers, including Killdeer are similar in looks and thus caution should be taken when identifying. The Piping Plover is paler than most of its relatives and the black markings on the throat and head are true distinguishing markers.
This research article looked at the effect of humans on the breeding and foraging behaviors of Piping Plovers. It shows that the number of people that inhabit a beach is directly related to how often the plovers are on the beach.
Burger, Joanna. “The Effect of Human Disturbance on Foraging Behavior and Habitat Use in Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus).” Estuaries 17.3 (1994): 695-701. Web.
Considering the conservation status of the Piping Plover, chick survivability is very important. Because it is so paramount that the chicks have the highest chance of survival possible this study looked at three habitats of Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland to determine what is most suitable based mostly upon food availability and predation.
Loegering, John P., James D. Fraser. “Factors Affecting Piping Plover Chick Survival in Different Brood-Rearing Habitats.” The Journal of Wildlife Management 59.4 (1995): 646-655. Web.
Contributed by Scott Spreng - 2014